Countdown to the Showdown

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Aug 292002
 
Authors: Jason Grasiadei

JAll the hype, all the anticipation and all the trash talking ends

Saturday when the CSU Rams meet in-state rival CU in Colorado’s premier college football match-up.

The Rocky Mountain Showdown at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver pits the 1-0 Rams against last year’s Big 12 champion, a Buffalo team that is ranked sixth in the country.

Kickoff is scheduled for 11:05 a.m. After last season’s humbling 41-14 defeat at the hands of the Buffs, CSU is not only looking for its second win of the year, but also revenge.

“Once you step out there on that field, you can’t do no more talking,” senior running back Cecil Sapp said. “I feel like my teammates are willing to go out there and perform instead of going out there talking all that trash. We’re just going to go out there and play physical football this weekend.”

The start of last year’s Showdown is fresh in the minds of the Rams’ players. On the second offensive play of the game, starting quarterback D.J. Busch tossed an interception that was returned for a touchdown. CSU never recovered from that opening mistake, and acknowledged the importance getting off to a good start this year.

“On the first drive, if we can take it down there and get a field goal or even a touchdown for that matter, I think it’s going to send a message that we’re here to fight, and we’re not going to drive back to Fort Collins with our tails between our legs,” sophomore tight end Joel Dreessen said.

The Rams have the advantage of already having played a game this season, giving them a chance to get the kinks out and address any problems.

However, that game also allowed CU to see what the Rams are capable of and gave them a chance to breakdown game film to find weaknesses.

“There’s always a decided advantage in playing a game before another team plays,” Buff’s head coach Gary Barnett said. “But I also feel we learned a few things by watching that game. We’re aware of their toughness and their character.”

Colorado finished 10-2 in 2001, winning the Big 12 Championship by virtue of a dominating 62-36 win over perennial power Nebraska. The Buffs season ended with disappointing loss to Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl, but they proved themselves to be one of the elite teams in the country featuring a powerful running game.

The trio of Chris Brown, Bobby Purify and Cortlen Johnson combined to rush for 2,429 yards last season, 315 of which came against CSU in the 2001 Showdown.

“You’re probably not going to stop CU’s running game, but if you can contain it and force them into a lot of situations where they’ve got to make some good passes to make plays, that just works to our advantage,” junior linebacker Drew Wood said. “We’re focused in on their running game, that’s where we’re going to try to step up and make plays.”

The Rams proved they could counter with offensive firepower of their own after putting up 35 points and over 400 yards of total offense in the season opener at Virginia. Along with Sapp’s career-best performance, quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt also had a big game and proved he can gain yards through the air. The junior saw his first playing time for the Rams in last year’s Showdown after replacing D.J. Busch in the second half. Van Pelt said he’s a little more comfortable going into this year’s game.

“Is this a big game?” Van Pelt jokingly asked reporters after Wednesday’s practice. “I think it’s just another game, we just happen to be playing Colorado. Of course if I was from Colorado, maybe I would have a different outlook on it. Colorado is a great team, but I don’t fear them any more than I feared Virginia. Last year at this time, (having) butterflies was an understatement. I’m just trying to have fun now. It’s not a win or die situation, but yes, you want to win it, and yes, it is another step towards our ultimate goal.”

The game is the fifth of six consecutive games between the two teams played at the neutral site in Denver. The Rams and Buffs have split the games at Mile High, with each team winning two, but CU leads the all-time series 54-17.

After a solid week of preparation for the game, the Rams’ coaches and players feel they have addressed CU’s strengths and are ready for the tough game ahead.

“One of the things that has impressed me about this team so far is that we had a good game against Virginia, but when we identified the things we needed to work on and they really attacked them out here,” co-offensive coordinator John Benton said. “We’re not really sure what they’re doing, we assume they’re doing what they did last year, but it has more to do with what we do and how we prepare than what they’re doing. We have to be able to run the ball consistently. Against Colorado you’re going to have to be able to do that.”

Both teams, however, are ready for what promises to be a game that could set the tone of the season for either squad. With over 70,000 fans expected at the stadium, it will be loud, it will be exciting, but in the end, only one team will claim the state of Colorado as its own.

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